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Health care workers suffer workplace injuries at an alarming rate

The U.S. Department of Labor recently highlighted the distressing problem of workplace injuries in the health care industry.  Health care workers, such as nurses and nurse aides, suffer work-related injuries and illnesses at a rate almost twice as high as the rate of workers in private industry.  They suffer injuries from, among other things, moving patients, needle sticks, and exposure to hazardous chemicals and drugs.

This is a serious problem.  “It means that workers who are relatively young have to stop working early in many cases,” says David Michaels, chief of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “They go home and they have real disabilities. They have trouble lifting up their kids. They have trouble doing a lot of the daily tasks of life, because of back injuries, arm injuries, shoulder injuries. It’s a very big deal.”

Many of the injuries that health care workers suffer are preventable.  In some hospital systems, safe patient handling programs have dramatically reduced workplace injuries.  In Veterans Administration hospitals injuries from lifting patients dropped by an average of 40% and in a chain of hospitals they dropped by 80% after implementing safe patient handling programs.  These programs include training staff on proper techniques and utilizing better equipment to lift patients.

Due to the high rate of injuries, it is not uncommon for health care workers to experience violations of their rights.  There are a variety of laws that protect workers’ jobs when they suffer serious injuries and illnesses.  These laws include the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Maine’s version of the FMLA; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA); and workers compensation laws.

If you are a health care worker who has suffered an injury or serious illness at work and you don’t think your employer is treating you in accordance with the law, contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.